PRINCETON, N.J. – Jeff Finger, who began his professional career with the Reading Royals, made his National Hockey League debut with the Colorado Avalanche in a 4-3 win on Tuesday.
The 27-year-old becomes the 322nd player to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL. He is the 19th former ECHL player to play his first NHL game this season and the 177th in the last five seasons.
Selected in the eighth round (240th overall) by Colorado in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Finger began his rookie season in 2003-04 with Reading and had seven points (2g-5a) and 24 penalty minutes in 10 games before being recalled to the American Hockey League where he had 11 points (2g-9a) and 88 penalty minutes in 63 games with Hershey.
The 6-foot-1 and 205-pound Finger was called up to Colorado on Feb. 17 after beginning the season in the AHL where he had 12 points (3g-9a) and 63 penalty minutes in 42 games with Albany. Finger joined the Avalanche for the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs but did not play.
The Premier â€˜AAâ€™ Hockey League, the ECHL has affiliations with 25 of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League in 2006-07, marking the 10th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL.
Since 2000-01 there have been 177 players who have played in the NHL after the ECHL including a record 47 who made their NHL debut in 2005-06. There have been 98 former ECHL players who have played in the NHL this season and in 2005-06 there were 112 former ECHL players who played in the NHL, including five goaltenders who played a game in both the ECHL and the NHL, and all 30 teams had a former ECHL player take the ice for at least one game.
There have been 19 ECHL players who have played their first NHL game this season: former Greenville and Richmond right wing Krys Barch (Dallas on Jan. 15), former Mississippi defenseman Sheldon Brookbank (Nashville on Feb. 6), former Reading goaltender Barry Brust (Los Angeles on Nov. 30), former Toledo center Matt Ellis (Detroit on Dec. 18), former Wheeling defenseman Drew Fata (New York Islanders on Feb. 4), former Reading defenseman Jeff Finger (Colorado on Feb. 20), former Bakersfield and Reading goaltender Yutaka Fukufuji (Los Angeles on Jan. 13), former Charlotte defenseman Daniel Girardi (New York Rangers on Jan. 27), former Long Beach goaltender Jaroslav Halak (Montreal on Feb. 18), former Trenton goaltender Martin Houle (Philadelphia on Dec. 13), former Alaska left wing D.J. King (St. Louis on Oct. 5), former Florida center Drew Larman (Florida on Nov. 13), former Florida defenseman Martin Lojek (Florida on Feb. 3), former Toledo goaltender Joey MacDonald (Detroit on Oct. 19), former Pensacola center Kris Newbury (Toronto on Dec. 23), former Augusta right wing Pierre Parenteau (Chicago on Feb. 7), former Columbia right wing Jesse Schultz (Vancouver on Nov. 28), former ECHL All-Star goaltender Mike Smith (Dallas on Oct. 21) and former Augusta goaltender Mike Wall (Anaheim on Nov. 26).
There are two NHL head coaches (Peter Laviolette and Jim Playfair) and nine NHL assistant coaches who have an ECHL background. The ECHL was represented for the sixth consecutive year on the Stanley Cup champion in 2006 by Laviolette, who is the first ECHL coach to hoist the coveted trophy, Chad LaRose, Andrew Hutchinson and assistant athletic trainer Chris Stewart.
The league officially changed its name to ECHL on May 19, 2003.
The ECHL has affiliations with 24 of the 27 teams in the American Hockey League in 2006-07 and for the past 17 years there has been an ECHL player on the Calder Cup champion. The ECHL has had more players called up to the AHL than all other professional leagues combined each of the past four seasons with 1,646 call ups involving almost 1,000 players.
The ECHL raised its average attendance for the third straight year in 2005-06 drawing 3,934,794 for 900 games which is an average of 4,372 per game, an increase of more than nine percent from 2004-05 and the largest per-game average since 1999-2000. Six teams surpassed 200,000 and nine teams averaged 5,000 per game for the first time since 1999-2000 as the league welcomed 40 sellout crowds and 13 of the 22 returning teams raised their average attendance from a year ago.
In 2005-06 the ECHL and its member teams contributed more than $2.3 million for charity and relief funds, including those benefiting victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while also making thousands of appearances by players, coaches, team personnel and mascots at schools, hospitals, libraries and charity functions.
Further information on the ECHL is available from its website at ECHL.com